I consider myself to be an adventurous cook. I’d much rather try a new recipe than make the same thing twice, let alone again and again. My husband finds this slightly annoying and dinner parties always have an air of suspense, but usually the result of my constant craving for something new equals lots of great tasting dishes on the table.
For all my culinary diversity however, I am downright boring when it comes to salad. Frankly, I rarely give it any thought preferring instead to throw it together right before dinner with whatever is at hand. Typically, this involves pre-washed mixed greens (yes, I’m also lazy when it comes to salads), tomatoes, carrots, onion, and some celery. Sprinkled with salt, pepper, and granulated garlic and then tossed with olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette, it’s fast, easy, and tastes good. But it’s never the highlight of the meal.
Well, never the highlight, until now. Using the classic combination of pears and gorgonzola, I came up with this salad to accompany a special dinner that my husband and I shared this weekend. In thinking about the salad, I knew I wanted it to incorporate the flavors of fall and be relatively easy to make. The resulting salad which consisted of poached pears, mixed greens, pecans, and gorgonzola accomplished these goals. Not tricky to make, it made an elegant first course. The red wine poaching liquid is flavored with whole star anise, the popular Chinese spice that smells and tastes of licorice, giving it a nice complexity that stands up well to the salty, pungent taste of the gorgonzola cheese. The most time consuming part of this salad is poaching the pears and this can be done up to a day ahead if you need some extra time. Simply leave the pears in the poaching liquid until ready to slice and serve. And don’t throw away the leftover poaching liquid as it can be reduced by half and would be delicious used as a sauce for ice cream or for grilled pork.
Poached Pear and Gorgonzola Salad
For the pears:
1 1/2 cup red wine
1 cup sugar
5 whole star anise*
2 Bosc pears, peeled
For the vinaigrette:
1 tablespoon Sherry vinegar
1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons Extra Virgin olive oil
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
For the salad:
2 poached pears, sliced
1/4 cup toasted pecans, roughly chopped
1/4 cup crumbled gorgonzola cheese
2 cups mixed greens
In a small saucepan, bring the red wine, sugar, and star anise to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for five minutes. Add the peeled pears to the poaching liquid and allow to simmer for 20 to 30 minutes. Turn often. Remove from heat and allow the pears to sit in the poaching liquid for at least 30 more minutes and up to 24 hours. If leaving overnight, store the pears in the refrigerator with the poaching liquid.
To make the vinaigrette, combine the sherry vinegar and Dijon mustard in a small bowl. Add the olive oil in a slow stream, whisking to incorporate. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Next, remove the poached pears from the poaching liquid and slice them thinly. Set them aside. Toss the mixed greens, chopped pecans, and gorgonzola cheese with the vinaigrette. Lay the pear slices decoratively on four salad plates and top with the mixed greens. Serve.
*Star Anise can be found at most grocery stores, but is far less expensive when purchased at an Asian market/store. Star anise contains anethol, which is the same oil that gives anise seed its distinct flavor.